Home > Chemistry > The Science of Making Butter

The Science of Making Butter

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 4 Jan 2015 |
Butter Milk Cream Milk Fat Butterfat Oil

Bread and butter go together naturally (especially freshly made bread still warm from the oven). There are records of butter making from around 4000 years ago. Butter usually comes from cow’s milk, but it can also be made from milk from buffalo, camels, goats, sheep or horses.

The Commercial Butter Making Process

The cream is separated from the milk and pasteurised (heated very quickly to a high temperature – 95ºC or more), which destroys any enzymes and microorganisms without affecting the flavour. The cream is ‘aged’ in a cool environment for 12 to 15 hours, and the cream is churned to form butter and buttermilk.

Making Your Own Butter

Put some double cream into a clean, dry jar and start shaking – it’s as simple as that! Keep shaking and checking the jar, and in about 15 minutes the cream will separate into butter and buttermilk. Try dropping a marble into the jar – does this make it become butter more quickly? Don’t forget to take the marble out at the end.

Drop the butter into cold water and knead it gently to get rid of any traces of buttermilk, with hands, two forks or a potato masher, draining and adding water until the water runs clear. Take the butter out of the water and knead it a bit more to get the last of the buttermilk or water out. It can be packed into a container or made into nice shapes. Try rolling it in dried herbs for a flavoured butter or adding a very small amount of salt to make slightly salted butter – this improves the taste and helps the butter to keep for longer. Spread the butter on warm, homemade bread or toast – delicious. Use the buttermilk as a drink, in baking or to make pancakes.

Another way to make butter is to use a blender, food processor or food mixer at the lowest speed, but take care not to over-beat it. Drain off the buttermilk and then wash the butter by adding a cup of ice-cold water, drain and repeat until the water comes out clear.

The Science of Butter

Butter is a mixture of milk fat and water in a type of colloid known as an emulsion. A colloid is a stable mixture of two materials (solids, liquids or gases) that don’t usually mix – substances that don’t mix are known as ‘immiscible’ (see ‘Ice Cream: Colloidal Chemistry’). An emulsion is a stable mixture of two immiscible liquids (see ‘Making an Emulsion’).

Butter is made from cream and is a water-in-oil emulsion of the milk fat (also known as the butterfat) and the water from the cream. Butter is about 80% fat and also contains fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E). It takes about 21 pounds of milk to make one pound of butter.

In cream, the drops of milk fat are spread throughout the cream, and are suspended in the milk protein. Shaking the cream makes the drops of milk fat stick together and separate out from the buttermilk, and adding a marble makes this more efficient.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
it is good to know how things works.thank you
TIA - 4-Jan-15 @ 1:24 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • The Science Guy
    Re: Why Oil and Water Don't Mix
    I’m a 10th grade student and I’m hoping S.O would write a paragraph on how to properly react Al or other metals with HCl or other…
    27 December 2019
  • Sarah
    Re: Making an Emulsion
    i hate airplane food they overheat EVERYTHING
    12 December 2019
  • Delly
    Re: Why Oil and Water Don't Mix
    I’m doing a project and it’s due in two days thanks for the info. I can finally rest after a long day of researching I’m in six…
    10 December 2019
  • Allycat
    Re: Why Oil and Water Don't Mix
    I am doing a fourth grade science project on this.My question is how or do a graph for this.?
    6 December 2019
  • Potent Pickle
    Re: Making an Emulsion
    My chin is very itchy... is it the lava laamp's greatness…
    21 November 2019
  • Timmy Timmy Timmy
    Re: Making an Emulsion
    bruh... what the heck is up with airline food
    21 November 2019
  • Mosey Cook
    Re: Make Yoghurt and Grow Yeast
    This article on natural yeast and good bacteria has been the best read I’ve read on the Internet
    1 November 2019
  • Tee
    Re: Vibrations: Seeing and Feeling Sound
    I have just witnessed a fork vibrating so fast on its own on the kitchen top. It made a sound while vibrating as if the…
    24 August 2019
  • simran panaich
    Re: Soap and Detergent Chemistry
    thnx!! It helped me a lot !!! THank YOu so much
    6 June 2019
  • Mar2
    Re: Why Oil and Water Don't Mix
    I am doing this as a demo for homogeneous mixture examples. It really helps, it is interesting, and thank you so much for it!!!
    5 June 2019